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Emotional Affairs at the Workplace

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In today’s society, we spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our own families. Due to this simple fact, emotional affairs at the workplace occur often. We become emotionally entangled with those whom we spend so much time with, and the boundaries between work and play become blurred. This question was submitted by a woman who finds herself exactly in this situation.

Dear Doctor Life Advice,

I have been married to my husband for over 15 years, and am a mother of three children. There is a man at work who is troubling me. He is married and has a baby with his wife. He gives me a lot of special attention and is very sweet and caring towards me. He spends his free time with me and we hug very tightly sometimes. A while ago he suggested that we stay away from each other because we are both married, and I agreed. That did not last very long, and he started getting close to me again. He has never asked me for my contact information. He has never tried to kiss me; he only likes hugging me in our stolen moments. I don’t know what he wants from me. If he is after sex, then he would have done it to me a long time ago, but he has never tried. I am so confused. I am already falling for him. What do you think he wants from me?

Signed: Confused Co-Worker

Dear Confused Co-Worker,

This is a very complicated situation that you are in. Even though the two of you have only hugged each other and have not gone any further physically, there is already a lot of confused emotions on both sides. You are essentially having an emotional affair. As far as he is concerned, it seems to me that he is drawn to you, but feels guilty about it. That is why he suggested that the two of you stay away from each other. He is trying to sort out his dedication to his marriage and his feelings for you. Also, the fact that he has a baby means that the dynamics of his marriage have shifted very suddenly. He has probably been demoted from first-place to a far lower second-place on his wife’s priority list. Here are some thoughts I have on your situation.

His Intentions are Irrelevant; what are Yours?

What strikes me most about your question is not what your co-worker is doing. I am more concerned about what you are doing. Looking at this from an objective point of view, it is really irrelevant what this man’s motivations are. What is important is what you are thinking, feeling, and needing. You tell me that you are “falling for” this man. I suggest that you step back and really think about what is going on with you, rather than worry about what he wants from you.

Think about what he means to you. You have been married for a long time, and I assume you have remained faithful to your husband. Many times, in a long term marriage, the couple begin to take each other for granted and stop trying hard to please each other. Is this true in your case? This man is giving you something that you are not getting in your marriage. Try to step back from the situation for a moment and think about what it is that is attracting you to him. Is it the attention he gives you? Does he give you a lot of compliments? Do you feel desirable around him? Look at what is going on with your husband. I wonder if your husband gives you enough attention, reminds you that you are attractive and desirable, and gives you lots of love.

Long term marriages with children are even more complicated. Often both parents are just struggling to get their work done and meet their children’s needs. Parents can easily forget that there is also a spouse whose needs are equally as important. I wonder if this has happened to your marriage. Are you feeling starved for affection and attention? If so, then you are falling for this man because you are getting some of your emotional needs met by him. You really do not know this man outside of these few intimate moments you have with him. It is really easy, therefore, for you to fill in the blanks with your imagination and create a man that is the stuff that dreams are made of. In reality, the man you are falling for is just someone who is confused in his own marriage and is looking around for what he is missing.

Who is in Control of this Situation?

Your question is mostly concerned about what this man is doing. You say if he wanted sex, he would have “done it to” you a long time ago. Does this mean that if he had asked you for sex, you would have complied? I want you to look at this situation from the point of view in which you have control. Ask yourself if you would kiss him, or if you would have sex with him. You need to know what you are capable of.

Empower yourself. Take control of the situation. Unless you are in an open marriage, then think how your marriage would be affected by you having an affair. Think about what your vision of your future is. Do you see yourself staying married to your husband for the rest of your life? If so, think about how he would feel if he found out about what has been going on already. If not, then you are probably using this other man as a means to separate yourself from your marriage. Either way, remember that you have the power to decide whether or not you want to pursue things further with this man. If you are confused about how you feel about your marriage, then I strongly suggest that you seek some individual therapy and work out your feelings in the safe environment of a therapist’s office. I recommend you stay away from your co-worker until you have sorted out your feelings and have made a decision. Obviously, being around him is very confusing for you.

You may do all of the above, and still decide that you want to maintain intimate contact with your co-worker, and then allow your feelings for him to develop further. If you do come to this conclusion after serious thought, then that would be the time to really look at his intentions. For all you know, he is very dedicated to his marriage and is just getting a kick out of the attention you give him. I am afraid you would be putting yourself in an extremely vulnerable position emotionally if you decide to pursue a love affair with your co-worker. Again, remember at all times that you have the power of making your own decisions, regardless of what your co-worker wants.

Please Consider the Practical Issues of Your Situation

Other than the effects that a potential affair would have on your marriage, I want you to think about what is going on at work. I know a case of a woman who had an affair with her co-worker. They used to send each other sweet, nice emails at work. When things went wrong between them, the man used the emails as evidence to build a sexual harassment case against her, and got her fired from her job. Keep in mind, she loved this man and trusted him. It had never occurred to her that he would be so sneaky or vengeful.

Be careful of what you do at work. Remember that you do not know much about this man other than the fact that he is being really sweet and nice to you. You do not know if he is talking to other co-workers about you, or confiding in them. Think about how easily rumors spread around your workplace. Whatever you do, do not put anything in writing or create any hard evidence that can be used against you later. Your co-worker may have all kinds of ulterior motives that we cannot possibly guess at. Make sure to keep yourself safe from things that could potentially damage your career.

Last, but not least, please think about your children. If there are serious problems in your marriage, then it is understandable that you look for affection elsewhere. Even though it is understandable, the consequences of finding love and affection outside of your marriage can be devastating to your family and particularly your children. If your husband is not meeting your needs, then consider the healthier path of seeking marriage and couples therapy, or even a divorce. Having an affair will not improve your marriage. You may get your needs met temporarily, however, think about the long term consequences, and whether or not you are willing to live with them. If you want to end your marriage, then you need to do it in such a way that is least damaging to the children. Children survive a divorce best when the parents have an amicable divorce. On the other hand, a messy divorce after an affair can be very harmful to the children.

Conclusions

In short, there are things you need to remember, and things you need to consider. Here’s a brief list.

  • What your co-worker wants is not important. Think about what you want.
  • Remember that you are always in control of your actions. You have the power to make your own decisions.
  • Look at your marriage seriously and see if there is something missing. If there is, try to work on either fixing the problem or leaving the marriage.
  • Think about the professional ramifications of having an affair with a co-worker.
  • Consider the personal ramifications of having an affair, and its effects on your family.
  • Remember, there are professionals out there to help you sort out your feelings, and help you with your marriage.
  • Stay away from your co-worker until you have thoroughly considered where you are and what you want.

Words to live by: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” ― Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre 

I hope this helps, and best of luck,

Doctor Life Advice

Sayeh Beheshti, M.D.

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